January 14th, 2010

reading is fun-damental

Thoughts on bookclubs

I started being in a bookclub back in 1998 or so, when I was at a law firm. The group was mostly other filing clerks and legal assistants, and while it was friendly, it still had a cliquey feel and I didn't feel like I was a part of it. After about 6 months, the stress of the company breaking in three caused the bookclub to take a hiatus, but I'd become bored of the dull memoir/touching books the group tended to choose ("Angela's Ashes" being typical) and the flat conversation (all about the plot and personal response and nothing about the actual literary qualities of the books).

A year or so later I started a book club with one of my former coworkers. We agreed on a manifesto (6 classics, 4 modern books of literary merit, 1 non-fiction, 1 science fiction for the summer when we would have a barbeque), found a few other people that liked what we wanted to do, and proceeded to have a bookclub for about two years, when the increasing hostility of two of the members of the book club led me to stop organizing meetings and let it go on its way. Still, I read some great books during those two years, like Cortazar's Hopscotch and The Sound and the Fury, and I knew damned well that the motivation of the club deadline is what kept me going.

Last year I managed to attend a bookclub about twice (maybe just once?) and got as my gift the treasure of having read Madame Bovary, not to mention the pleasure of talking to other people about books again. I have friends who do wind up reading the same books, but since we often read them in series (since we will share a book with each other - The End of Mr Y comes to mind) - we usually can't talk about them in depth. Once again, my membership in this bookclub ended due to the hostility of the other members (one of them isn't talking to me anymore, and I can't imagine dropping in again just to face that!), but my desire to "up my game" and read books of lasting value continues.

Now I see books on my shelf - Master and Margarita, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Don Quixote - that I know I want on my life list but haven't been able to motivate myself to read - well, that's not entirely true, as I made it through three classics last year - and I want even more to have people to talk about them with. Tonight I meet to see if I can reach that special detente with two other people. Perhaps I should just assume that book clubs have a fixed life and then get my enjoyment out of the time I'm in this new one, but mostly, I can't wait to pick up a really great book and have someone to talk to about it. It's not true that no one enjoys Proust in a vacuum, but, like Proust himself, there is so much enjoyment to be found if you can share your reading with others.
reading is fun-damental

Books

Here's the books we picked:
Cold Comfort Farm
Delphine by Madame de Stael
The Awakening
Naguib Mahfouz Palace Walk
Marquise D'O - Kleist
Lady Chatterly's Lover
House of Mirth